“The Feast of the Immaculate Conception
of the Blessed Virgin Mary”
Today in Catholic History:
† 1626 – Birth of Christina, queen of Sweden who abdicated after becoming Catholic
† 1768 – Death of Jean Denis Attiret, French Jesuit missionary (b. 1702)
† 1854 – Pope Pius IX proclaims dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which hold the Blessed Virgin Mary free of “Original Sin”
† 1864 – Pope Pius IX publishes encyclical Quanta cura (“Syllabus errorum”)
† 1869 – 20th Roman Catholic ecumenical council, Vatican I, opens in Rome
† 1965 – Pope Paul VI signs 2nd Vatican council
† Eastern Christianity Major Feast Day: Conception of the Theotokos (Mother of God) by Anna
† Feast Day: The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary (Holy Day of Obligation in Ireland, U.S.); Saint Eucharius, first bishop of Trier
(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
“Today in Catholic History”
Franciscan Formation Reflection:
Franciscans acknowledge that life is sacred and are dedicated to a consistent ethic of life.
“Since life is the first gift given us by God, Franciscans have a profound respect for human life. The itinerancy which is part of the Franciscan vocation helps the followers of Francis and Clare understand better the fragility of life and to support the most vulnerable in society. Because of this, the Franciscan family, from its earliest moments, embraced active non-violence and articulated a theology and ethics centered in love. This spiritual perspective includes respect for those who disagree with us, as shown in the dialogue between Francis and the sultan.”
“When I was in sin, it seemed too bitter for me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me turned into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I delayed a little and left the world.” St. Francis, The Testament, 1-2.
Quote or Joke of the Day:
Today’s reflection is about the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, and Mary responds, “Let it be done to me as you say.”
26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” 35 And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36 And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37 for nothing will be impossible for God.” 38 Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (NAB Luke 1:26-38)
Today we celebrate the “Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” This feast day celebrates God’s choice of Mary to be the Mother of Jesus (and us all). In preparation, God preserved Mary from the stain or mark on her soul from original sin. This reprieve from original sin was from the moment of her conception. Thus, Mary’s role was prefigured from the very beginning of time! Our Blessed Virgin Mary was also the first to receive the benefits and graces from the salvation that her Son – – Jesus Christ – – would secure for all mankind.
I love the infancy narratives in Luke’s Gospel. I have read it to my children many times throughout the years of CHRIST-mas Seasons. The home nativity scene, with its simple crib can be a helpful way of presenting our faith to family and friends. The crib helps us to think about, and consider, the mystery of God’s love revealed in the poverty and simplicity of an animal’s grotto in Bethlehem. Saint Francis loved these same infancy narratives, along with the mystery of the Incarnation, so much that he created the first live nativity scene in the town of Grecio, Italy in the year 1223. The Nativity scene has come to be a major focus to our family’s CHRIST-mas decorations as well, both outside and inside the home. What better way to evangelize, and to “Keep Christ in CHRISTmas!”
Pope Benedict XVI says this about the Christmas Nativity Scene:
“It still retains its value for evangelization today. Indeed the crib can help us understand the secret of the true Christmas because it speaks of the humility and merciful goodness of Christ, who ‘though He was rich he made Himself poor’ for us (2 Cor 8:9). His poverty enriches those who embrace it and Christmas brings joy and peace to those who, like the Shepherds in Bethlehem, accept the Angel’s words: ‘Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes’ (Lk 2:12). This is still the sign for us too, men and woman of the third millennium. There is no other Christmas.”
Luke tells us much about Mary and the child she is to accept, support, carry in her womb, give birth to, and raise to adulthood. For instance, we learn (1) that Mary is a virgin from Nazareth who was “betrothed” to a man named Joseph. (2) We know Joseph was of the “house of David.” (3) Gabriel greets Mary in the most glowing and esteemed of terms, to the point of acknowledging the special favor she has found with God. (And, with a perfect past-participle part of speech at that, I might add!) (4) The son Mary is to conceive is described in messianic terms. And, finally, (5) He [Jesus] will be called “Son of the Most High” and the “Son of God.”
Would it not be the perfect gift to have a “messenger” of God telling you that God is pleased with you?! Mary’s initial reaction to this angel, called “Gabriel” (His name means “the strength of God.”), was naturally one of surprise, and also probably with some fear attached to his appearance. Being “perfect” in nature, an angel has to be one of such beauty as to place any mere human in a state of total and absolute awe. Yes, I know angels are a “spirit” and have no real bodily form; but the form Gabriel took in order to be seen by Mary is what I am talking about.
I truly love Mary’s human, yet divine reaction. She places her body, heart, and soul into the hands of God. She accepts His grace, gift, and responsibility. God is granting to her the Motherhood of God Himself, in the human form of Jesus. In doing so, Mary not only became the “Mother” of God, but also the Mother to all mankind. Now that is “awesome!!”
The message to Mary of the birth of Jesus corresponds to the message from the archangel Gabriel to Zechariah of the birth of John (the Baptist). In both, Gabriel appears to the “future parent,” who is at first unsettled by the vision.
Luke 1:12: “Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.”
Luke 1:29: “ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”
Both Zechariah and Mary are told by Gabriel not to fear.
Luke 1:13: “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.’”
Luke 1: 30-31: “Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.’”
And, after the announcement is made,:
Luke 1:14-17: “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of (the) Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.”
Luke 1:31-33: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
both Zechariah and Mary initially objects (Luke 1:18, 34),:
Luke 1:18: “Then Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’”
Luke 1:34: “But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’”
and finally, a sign is given to confirm the announcement (Luke 1:20, 36).
Luke 1:20: “But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”
Luke 1:36: “And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren.”
Mary questions Gabriel “of how” is because she has never had any sexual relations. Her retort was a spontaneous and truthfully humble response. Luke uses Mary’s response to point to the declaration about the Holy Spirit’s part in the conception of Jesus. The virginal conception of Jesus took place solely through the Holy Spirit: the power of God. Therefore, in this divine act, there is proof of Jesus having an especially unique relationship to “Yahweh”: He is the “Son of God!”
Gabriel tells Mary that if a woman well past childbearing age could become pregnant, why should there be any doubt about Mary’s pregnancy, – – for nothing will be (nor is) impossible for God!
Mary’s positive and assenting answer to this outwardly impossible message gives to all of us evidence to the true love, trust, and grace she always possessed from, and for, God. Only one who is “full of grace” can be so receptive to, and cooperative with, the will of God. Mary is the true model of discipleship for all Catholics.
Gabriel puts a particular focus on the message of the birth of Jesus by His identity as the “Son of David” and “Son of God”. In verse 32, Mary is told that her baby will be the “Son of the Most High”. Further on in this first Chapter of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:76), John (Elizabeth’s child) is described as the “prophet of the Most High.” “Most High” is a title for God that was used often throughout Luke’s two “New Testament” books (Luke and Acts). You can see each of these references by going to Luke 1:35 & 76; 6:35; 8:28; and Acts 7:48; 16:17.
In my thirty years as a paramedic, I was privileged to assist in the delivery of a dozen or so babies in the pre-hospital setting. All the “soon to be mothers” always had some level of fear with the situation of delivering outside the warm and aseptic environment of the local hospital. (If they only realized that I actually had more apprehension in these times; but I could bluff well.) Most of these young ladies were well under twenty-five (25) years of age. Once though, I took care of one young GIRL who had just turned thirteen (13) years of age (YES, 13!), and she was actively delivering a full-term (40 week) baby on the kitchen floor as I arrived at her mother’s home. To make the matter worse, this was her second pregnancy; the first one ending in an abortion. (You do the math!) Now realize, this child was probably only a year or two younger than Mary!
I am sure Mary had some fear. I have yet to see a woman in labor that hasn’t, and we live in a time and place of “modern” medicine and analgesia (pain control). I am sure she had many concerns streaming through her young, teen-age, head. How would she be treated by Joseph when he found out about her pregnancy? How would her own family treat her? Would she use disposable or cloth diapers? (You know she used cloth because the Holy family was “eco-friendly.”) What would the local society think of her being pregnant, and not living with Joseph as of yet? Would Joseph have her stoned to death for adultery? (This was his right per Jewish law.) Should she and Joseph get separate twin beds, or a king-size bed? She was a young girl of about fifteen (15). Did she actually understand the physical aspects of pregnancy, delivery, and motherhood? I would think not. Thank God her baby turned out to be a “saint” of a child! (He, he! I had too.)
There were many unanswered questions and concerns for Mary, Joseph, and possibly for others in her inner circle. But Mary said “YES” with little hesitation! She gave herself totally to God – heart, soul, and body! Young Mary was destined to become the new “Ark” for the new covenant of God – – coming to fruition through Jesus Christ. She was to become the new “Eve” bringing a new life for all people, through Jesus Christ. Mary was to become not only the Mother of God, but also the Mother of all humans on earth – – through Jesus Christ.
God is a benevolent and merciful God, but also a God of swift judgment. Mary said “YES” and was rewarded with the crown of a “Queen.” Zechariah could not believe what was told to him and was immediately struck down with an infirmity. Is this an indication of what is in store for all of us when it is time for our “final” judgment? Do you say “Yes” without any hesitation, or do you “Hmm and Haw” over God’s plans for you? Those living a true Catholic life filled within the virtues God so dearly wants us to live may very well find an immediate reward with Him in eternal paradise. Others, including the “tepid” of faith, may be self-doomed to a horrible existence in everlasting and perpetual hell.
In reflecting on this Gospel reading, I realized this is the story of the “First Joyful Rosary Mystery” called the “Annunciation” wherein Luke introduces the “person” of Mary through her dialogue with the angel Gabriel. In Luke, the Annunciation begins with the account of “John the Baptist’s” conception and birth. Luke puts forth the phrase, “In the sixth month,” as the initial contact Gabriel makes in proclaiming Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Gabriel says these specific words when he appeared to a young virgin, living in the city of Nazareth—Mary, for a specific purpose.
Have you ever been chosen for a high responsibility? To be chosen by God for a particular task has to be (and is) an awesome notion. This is exactly why we honor Mary; she was chosen by God. She was chosen by God – – to be the Mother of Jesus, and ultimately, of all of us!
Yet, realize each of us is chosen by God in many specific and important ways. Each of us are given many gifts, graces, and talents by God; and we are expected to share them with the world. As a parent, I have a tremendous responsibility to help my children find and develop these gifts, graces, and talents they have, and to encourage a sharing with others; to help them serve God to their fullest.
Today, identify some of the talents that God has given to you. In what ways should these talents be used in helping others? Mary was given a special task by God. Reflect on Mary’s simple and humble reply to God’s call for her. Can you respond to God with a resounding “Yes” as this young teenage girl, Mary, did?!
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of god, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen”
Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO
A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day: Feast of the Immaculate Conception
A feast called the Conception of Mary arose in the Eastern Church in the seventh century. It came to the West in the eighth century. In the eleventh century it received its present name, the Immaculate Conception. In the eighteenth century it became a feast of the universal Church.
In 1854, Pius IX solemnly proclaimed: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”
It took a long time for this doctrine to develop. While many Fathers and Doctors of the Church considered Mary the greatest and holiest of the saints, they often had difficulty in seeing Mary as sinless—either at her conception or throughout her life. This is one of the Church teachings that arose more from the piety of the faithful than from the insights of brilliant theologians. Even such champions of Mary as Bernard and Thomas Aquinas could not see theological justification for this teaching.
Two Franciscans, William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus, helped develop the theology. They point out that Mary’s Immaculate Conception enhances Jesus’ redemptive work. Other members of the human race are cleansed from original sin after birth. In Mary, Jesus’ work was so powerful as to prevent original sin at the outset.
In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel, speaking on God’s behalf, addresses Mary as “full of grace” (or “highly favored”). In that context this phrase means that Mary is receiving all the special divine help necessary for the task ahead. However, the Church grows in understanding with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit led the Church, especially non-theologians, to the insight that Mary had to be the most perfect work of God next to the Incarnation. Or rather, Mary’s intimate association with the Incarnation called for the special involvement of God in Mary’s whole life. The logic of piety helped God’s people to believe that Mary was full of grace and free of sin from the first moment of her existence. Moreover, this great privilege of Mary is the highlight of all that God has done in Jesus. Rightly understood, the incomparable holiness of Mary shows forth the incomparable goodness of God.
“[Mary] gave to the world the Life that renews all things, and she was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.
“It is no wonder, then, that the usage prevailed among the holy Fathers whereby they called the mother of God entirely holy and free from all stain of sin, fashioned by the Holy Spirit into a kind of new substance and new creature. Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the splendors of an entirely unique holiness, the Virgin of Nazareth is, on God’s command, greeted by an angel messenger as ‘full of grace’ (cf. Luke 1:28). To the heavenly messenger she replies: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word’ (Luke 1:38)” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 56).
Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)
Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule #’s 8 & 9 of 26:
8. As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do.
Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist. Let them join in liturgical prayer in one of the forms proposed by the Church, reliving the mysteries of the life of Christ.
9. The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.